Day By Day

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Killing Saddam, the European Perspective

The international media have in recent years trumpeted the development of a wide and growing gulf in perception between Americans and Europeans. Reactions to the Saddam's execution show that on at least one issue -- the death penalty -- differences are real, but not so great as the media has suggested.

David Kaspars Mediankritik notes that an international poll conducted by le Monde showed that a majority of respondents in several European countries supported the execution of Saddam. So, opposition to the death penalty is not so absolute as is often claimed.

Read his analysis here.

And, since the US media are squeamish about showing the entire execution, you can see the whole thing, including the drop, at David's site.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Toby Takes A Stand

The Bilious Young Fogey explains:
*I don't buy organic anyway. I have a functioning immune system, and would rather spend the money saved on ice cream than lining the pockets of capitalist hippies and PETA.
Well said! It's been more than a year since I've set foot in my neighborhood Whole Foods market.

Read the BYF here. He always has provocative things to say, and he's usually right.

I do worry about the carrots, though.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam Deathwatch

Pajamas Media has running commentary here.

Iraq the Model is reporting from inside Iraq here.

Flopping Aces reminds us of the evil this man has done here. [warning: graphic images of evil]

See more at Gateway Pundit here. [more graphic images]

More here. [State Department Source]

Perhaps it is because it has been so long in coming but I cannot feel shock or horror or gladness or triumph or relief or even great interest in the death of this monster. He was a very bad man who did some very bad things and now he will be gone. That's it and that's all, at least I hope it is.

UPDATE: It's over!

The WaPo reports:

BAGHDAD, Dec. 30 -- Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was hanged in the predawn hours of Saturday for crimes against humanity in the mass murder of Shiite men and boys in the 1980s, sent to the gallows by a government backed by the United States and led by Shiite Muslims who had been oppressed during his rule, Iraqi and American officials said.

In the early morning, Hussein, 69, was escorted from his U.S. military prison cell at Camp Cropper, near the Baghdad airport, and handed over to Iraqi officials. He was executed on the day Sunni Muslims, of which he was one, were to begin celebrating the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, described on state television Hussein's last moments. The execution took place in the headquarters of Hussein's former military intelligence service in Baghdad's Kadhimiyah neighborhood.

"He was frightened. It was clear in his face, but he turned his face at me and said, 'Don't be afraid,' " Rubaie said. "It was just like he was talking about himself."

He added that Hussein did not resist. "It was unbelievable. He just surrendered himself."

Only a small group of Iraqi officials were present in the execution room, Rubaie said. American officials waited outside.

Sami al-Askari, a member of parliament, said Hussein refused to wear a black hood for his hanging. "He died instantly," Askari said on al-Arabiya television.

Read the whole thing here.

The NYT account is here.

CNN broadcast story here.

The beeb reports here.

Video from FOX here.

The Times has a first-person account here.

And here's a tape of the whole execution, including the drop and the shouts of witnesses [scroll down, it's near the end of the post].

Thursday, December 28, 2006

What Are The Ethiopians Doing Right?

Islamic radicalism has been dealt a major blow in Somalia and American commentators are looking for reasons. Pajamas Media has a summary here.

A couple of observations:

1) Once again the US intelligence services screwed up royally.

The startlingly rapid retreat of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a Taliban-like group linked to Osama bin Laden, surprised military intelligence officers who less than a week ago were predicting a total route of Somalia’s secular transitional federal government.

2) This has become an opportunity to rail against the restrictive rules of engagement that hamper the operations of American troops in Iraq.
There may be lessons for the United States in Ethiopia’s success. Abdiweli Ali, an assistant professor at Niagara University who is in contact with transitional government military commanders on the ground, says that Ethiopia has less concern than the U.S. about civilian casualties.
We've been hearing a lot of this stuff lately -- complaints that we are fighting too nicely to win.

3) It has also been an opportunity to vent frustration regarding the way in which the Western media have behaved.
The Ethiopian government is generally less sensitive to media criticism than the U.S. government—and is likely to encounter far less criticism in the first place, since the press traditionally gives short shrift to coverage of Africa.
Already the lens is being ground through which conservatives will view the events of our times. Here are three of the major elements -- complaints against incompetent bureaucrats, complaints against restrictive human rights regulations, and complaints about a biased media.

These complaints can be argued against, but they should not be dismissed out of hand. Each of them contains elements of the truth. The intelligence services in recent decades have at times displayed staggering levels of incompetence; a narrow focus on human rights can be counter productive in many instances, impeding the resolution of destructive confrontations; and there is ample evidence of widespread, even systemic, media bias. I doubt that these in themselves are sufficient to explain the difficulties we now face, but they do contribute significantly to our current dilemma.

Prophets of Doom

Larry Summers notes the tremendous disparity between the optimism of investors and the doom and gloom purveyed by the commentariat.

He's on to something.

Despite hard evidence that, by a number of measures, things have been getting better not just in America but across the globe the MSM has been churning out an almost unending stream of dire predictions. This goes beyond simply trying to elect Democrats. It reflects a broad pessimism and disconnect from reality within the chattering classes. It may be that they are extrapolating from the self-inflicted decline of their own industry to the rest of the world.

Summers writes:
The headlines and opinion writers focus on how the U.S. is badly bogged down in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; on an increasingly unstable Middle East and dangerous energy dependence; on nuclear proliferation that has already occurred in North Korea and that is coming in Iran; on the potential weakness of lame-duck political leaders; on record global trade imbalances and rising protectionist pressures; on increased levels of public and private-sector borrowing combined with record low saving in the United States; and on falling home prices and middle-class economic insecurity.

At the same time, financial markets are pricing in an expectation of tranquillity as far as the eye can see. Stock prices in the U.S. are at all-time highs. The risk premiums that corporations or developing countries have to pay to borrow money are at or near historic lows. In addition, estimates of the volatility of the stock, bond and foreign exchange markets inferred from the prices of options are near record lows.
Read it here.


Jeff Jacoby has a nice piece on attempts by left-wing environmentalists to create a "Climate of Fear" regarding global warming. He closes with a nice quote from H. L. Menken. He writes:

[T]here is always a market for apocalyptic forebodings. Paul Ehrlich grew rich predicting the imminent deaths of hundreds of millions of human beings from starvation and epidemic disease. "The Limits to Growth," the Club of Rome's 1972 bestseller, warned that humankind was going to experience "a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline" as the world's resources -- everything from gold to petroleum -- ran dry. Jonathan Schell and Carl Sagan forecast a devastating "nuclear winter" unless atomic arsenals were frozen, or better still, abolished. Those doomsday prophesies never came to pass. Neither have the climate-change catastrophes that have been bruited about for a century.

"The whole aim of practical politics," wrote H.L. Mencken in 1920, "is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." Some things never change.

So true..., so true!

Read the whole thing here.

What is really disturbing is that these cynics and nutjobs, having failed to impress the adult population of the country with their hysterical antics, have been working at indoctrinating school children while they are young and impressionable.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford

America has lost one of its best men.

Gerald Ford was many things in the course of his life -- Eagle Scout, all-star athlete, war hero, congressional leader, Vice President and eventually President of the United States. It is unfortunate that our modern media culture should remember him mostly for things he was not, rather than for what he was – a good, gracious, and honorable man, and a living repudiation of the cynicism and hatred that have characterized our political culture over the course of the past half century.

President Ford had many detractors. Nixon haters who were lusting for a show trial never forgave him for pardoning his predecessor. The anti-war Left assailed him for keeping Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State and attempting to sustain support for South Vietnam. Pseudo-sophisticates in the national media portrayed this intelligent, gifted and accomplished former sports star as dumb and clumsy. He survived two assassination attempts spawned by counter-cultural lunacy. Most importantly, Reaganite Republicans despised his choice of Nelson Rockefeller to serve as Vice President. In the campaign of 1976 Reaganites launched a determined effort to deny Ford the party’s nomination and, failing that, withheld their support in the general election. The result was that Republican gains in the South were reversed, the region voted solidly for Jimmy Carter, and Ford was defeated by a narrow two-point margin. Despite this conservative betrayal Ford four years later, in a typical generosity of spirit, campaigned vigorously for his old antagonist.

Many have considered Ford to have been ineffectual. It is true that he faced almost insuperable obstacles and suffered failures in Vietnam and on the economic front, but those were not of his own making and can be laid at the feet of the Democratic majority in Congress that persistently denied his requests for action. Ford’s accomplishments were not inconsequential. He did resolve the constitutional crisis to the satisfaction of most of the electorate. He did sign the Helsinki Accords and facilitate a cease fire in the Middle East. He was tough in the Mayaguez crisis and forgiving with regard to draft evaders and deserters. His accomplishments, while modest, do surpass those of the last two years of the Nixon administration and those of his successor in office, Jimmy Carter.

Gerald Ford was not an ideologue. He was a good, generous and decent man and he promoted the careers of men of similar bent. He chose Donald Rumsfeld as his Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney as Chief of Staff [replacing Rumsfeld who had previously served in that capacity], and appointed George Herbert Walker Bush as ambassador to China and then to head the CIA. Negotiations with the Ford camp in 1980 led to Reagan’s choice of Bush as his Vice President. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since leaving office Gerald Ford has conducted himself impeccably, quietly promoting a number of charitable causes, in stark contrast to the unseemly grandstanding and moral self-aggrandizement of Presidents Carter and Clinton.

In a time of partisan viciousness similar to those in which Gerald Ford ascended to the Presidency, it is good to reflect on the existence of such a man and to take hope that such as he will always be around to rescue us from our follies.

Monday, December 25, 2006


Have a very merry Christmas, remember the Prince of Peace, the message he brought to all of us, and be ye kind one to another.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Picture of the Day -- Anticipation of Spring

"She Who Must Not Be Named" is very proud of her azaleas. In a few months they'll be back. I can hardly wait.

The Never-Ending Debate over Fundamental Principles

Jonah Goldberg has been reading Keynes and thinks he's "brilliant." [here] He may have taken the first steps down the road to full-blown Keynesianism, but I'm going to stick with Hayek. I mean..., look at them, there's no comparison!

Why am I suddenly thirsty?

The Costs of Redeployment

Ben Connable has a piece in the NYT in which he describes the consequences of acquiescing to Democrat demands for "redeployment."

American units have already withdrawn from the western Euphrates River valley — twice, in fact. As the insurgency heated up in early 2004, the Seventh Marine Regiment pulled up stakes and went to fight insurgents in eastern Anbar, leaving the rest of the province in the hands of a battalion of troops. The Marines balanced obvious risk against the possible reward of overwhelming some of the insurgent groups in the east.

The consequences were immediate and bloody. Insurgents assumed control of several towns and villages. They tortured and executed police officers, local politicians, friendly tribal leaders and informants. They murdered contractors who had worked with the Americans or the Iraqi government. They tore down American-financed reconstruction projects and in a few cases imposed an extreme version of Islamic law. Many Iraqi military units collapsed in the absence of United States support.

The insurgents celebrated their self-described victory and exploited the withdrawal for propaganda purposes. Baathist-led insurgents used the opportunity to establish training camps and weapons caches in the farmland and along the river banks while other groups, including Al Qaeda, smuggled in fighters, suicide bombers and money to support operations in Ramadi, Falluja and Baghdad. Western Iraq became a temporary haven for criminals, terrorists and thousands of local thugs who made up de facto mini-regimes in the absence of a stabilizing force.

When the Seventh Marines returned to western Anbar it was essentially forced to retake some of the towns it once controlled. Many local Iraqis were openly hostile; the battle for the hearts and minds of the population was set back months, if not years. With the politicians murdered, local civil administration was almost nonexistent and any influence held by the central government was lost.

Read it here.

What A Difference An Election Makes -- The Iraq Economic Miracle

Now that the Democrats have safely won control of Congress, wonderful things are happening in Iraq.

Newsweek reports:

In what might be called the mother of all surprises, Iraq’s economy is growing strong, even booming in places.


Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and—mother of all surprises—it’s doing remarkably well. Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank has it lower: at 4 percent this year. But, given all the attention paid to deteriorating security, the startling fact is that Iraq is growing at all.


[T]here's a vibrancy at the grass roots that is invisible in most international coverage of Iraq. Partly it's the trickle-down effect. However it's spent, whether on security or something else, money circulates. Nor are ordinary Iraqis themselves short on cash. After so many years of living under sanctions, with little to consume, many built up considerable nest eggs—which they are now spending. That's boosted economic activity, particularly in retail. Imported goods have grown increasingly affordable, thanks to the elimination of tariffs and trade barriers. Salaries have gone up more than 100 percent since the fall of Saddam, and income-tax cuts (from 45 percent to just 15 percent) have put more cash in Iraqi pockets. "The U.S. wanted to create the conditions in which small-scale private enterprise could blossom," says Jan Randolph, head of sovereign risk at Global Insight. "In a sense, they've succeeded."

Consider some less formal indicators. Perhaps the most pervasive is the horrendous Iraqi traffic jams. Roadside bombs account for fewer backups than the sheer number of secondhand cars that have crowded onto the nation's roads—five times as many in Baghdad as before the war. Cheap Chinese goods overflow from shop shelves, and store owners report quick turnover. Real-estate prices have risen several hundred percent, suggesting that Iraqis are more optimistic about the future than most Americans are.


The withdrawal of a certain great power could drastically reduce the foreign money flow, and knock the crippled economy flat.

Read it here. [emphases mine]

Funny how they didn’t notice all that wonderfulness before the election.

This unreported activity is far more important than the explosions that dominate the news. Economic prosperity has real social and political consequences that the bombers cannot prevent from happening. I suspect that things are going to turn out well in Iraq over the long-term, but by the time that realization sinks in, Bush will be just a distant memory.

A Brief Encounter In an Elevator

I stepped onto the elevator and headed up to my apartment. Just as the doors were closing she slipped in behind me and pushed the button for the penthouse. Being male I could not help but notice that she was remarkably young and attractive. Had I been twenty- or thirty-something and single that fact would have filled my mind and I would have been madly thinking of a way to start a conversation, but well into my seventh decade and happily married, my thoughts quickly moved beyond the simple observation that for a few seconds at least I was alone with a beautiful woman to matters of greater import.

Over the past few months I had noted other young, attractive women going up to the penthouse apartment. I recalled that they had also been treated with great deference by the building staff. Who, I wondered, lives up there? I had heard that the unit had recently been sold but at the time had not noted who the new owner was. Now I was intrigued, but not for the reasons you might suppose.

She was speaking into a cell phone issuing clear, precise orders to someone in a calm and steady tone – clearly the voice of authority. Either she was a person of some importance or she was a personal assistant wielding the authority of some such person; probably the latter. I had seen such behavior before, when Bruce Willis had been renting the unit. That was interesting. Clearly my new neighbor was wealthy – multi-story penthouse apartments don’t come cheap – and it was likely that he or she was a person of some consequence, perhaps even famous. If so that would be good for property values in the building.

Yes, at my age and in the current housing market, a consideration of property values takes precedence over the presence of a beautiful woman.

She finished the call and closed her phone; then it struck me. She’s been talking on a cell phone inside the elevator! I’ve never been able to get a signal in here. I began to wonder what kind of phone she uses and who is her service provider?


I ventured to speak. “I can’t believe you got a signal here in the elevator.”

She laughed, “I know, amazing isn’t it?” She smiled at me.

Before I could reply the bell rang, the door opened, and I stepped out into the hallway in front of my apartment.

I turned back.

“Take care,” I said.

“You too…, bye!” The doors closed and she continued her journey upward.

Had I been twenty- or thirty-something and single I would have kicked myself for not having said something engaging. Now, though, I merely thought as I entered my apartment, “Damn, I didn’t have time to ask her what kind of phone she’s using.”

Later that evening, over dinner, some friends told me that our upstairs neighbor is indeed wealthy, powerful, and even famous – a major figure in the film industry.

Ah…, yes!

Things began to click into place – the beautiful youngsters, the servility of the staff, the frequent room service deliveries from the restaurants downstairs, etc.

The warm glow of understanding swelled within me, marred only by the lack of one important piece of information.

I still don’t know what kind of phone she was using.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Collapse of Scientific Authority (cont.) -- Junk Science

Fox News lists the top ten junk science stories of 2006, the list includes pronouncements from Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton, NOAA, the World Health Organization, New York's Board of Health, and other prominent fantasists and jokesters.

Read it here.

Picture of the Day -- The National Aquarium at Night

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Test Of Concept

This afternoon I happened to notice the pattern made by the reflection of the National Aquarium in the harbor and decided to use my new toy to capture it. Unfortunately, I don't have a telephoto lens [yet] and therefore couldn't get a close-up photo. But I do have a small telescope and so tried to take a picture looking through it. Here are the results:

Picture Of The Day -- Baltimore Skyline

Late afternoon looking north across the Inner Harbor from Federal Hill.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Continuing Collapse of Scientific Authority -- Circumcision and AIDS Prevention

There has been a lot of hoo hah in the press and blogosphere regarding a recent study purporting to show that circumcision significantly reduces the infection rates of HIV. Based upon the study proposals have been avanced advocating mass circumcisions of men throughout the developing world.


Don't believe it! John Hawks has gone over the original figures and shows that they were presented in such a way as to make the reduction in infections seem much, much larger than it actually was. The study claimed a 53 percent reduction in infections and an uncritical press trumpeted that figure, but the actual reduction was only 1.8 percent. Moreover, the stories did not consider the complications and infections that might result from circumcision. It also appears that the researchers stopped the study before completion because they had gotten satisfactory results -- in other words, as soon as they got figures they wanted they stopped, thus guaranteeing the results of the study. Prof. Hawks notes that it is quite likely that those results would have disappeared had the study been continued. In other words both the conduct of the study and the manner of its reporting present a false and potentially dangerous conclusion.

If such malfeasance, duplicity, and incompetence were not so wildly rampant in medical [and environmental] research I would suspect an agenda on the part of the researchers. Instead, it is likely that this crap is just par for the course.

Read Hawks' critique here.

Cliff May on the "Occupation"

In response to those who would blame the current chaos in Iraq on the American "occupation."

So when Iraq day laborers are mass-murdered by a suicide bomber, when teachers are taken from their classrooms, lined up and shot — that’s because the killers “detest foreign occupation”? Isn’t that a rather odd way to express it?

And when a Sunni uses a power drill to torture a Shia to death, or when a Shia death squad drives a Sunni family from their home, that’s “resistance” which “prevails in the end”? I think I recall the French Resistance taking a somewhat different approach.

Read the whole thing here.

The Future Is Now

Some months ago I had posted about "bendable concrete" which is much more durable than the regular kind [here]. It has the potential to dramatically reduce construction and maintenance costs. Popular Mechanics has now designated it one of the ten new technologies that will be changing our lives in the near future.

Check out the list here. It's pretty amazing. At my age I am particularly impressed by the "smart pills" that can replace some of the more disgustingly invasive diagnostic medical procedures.

Ramadi Blogging

Michael Fumento is blogging from Ramadi. Check out his posts here. Lotsa good stuff!

Picture Of The Day -- Vacancy

My neighbors have gone south for the season, but no worry, they'll be back soon.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

You're So Vain..., You Probably Thought This Book Was About You

Michael Crowley, Senior Editor at The New Republic, thinks that one of the characters in Michael Crichton's new book, Next, looks a bit too familiar.

The fictional character, named Mick Crowley, is described by Crichton as a child molestor, a "weasel," a "dickhead," and (worst of all) a "professional political journalist." Somehow Crowley thinks this is a reference to him. He responds intemperately in New Republic Online, invoking the "little known... small penis rule" [here].

An excerpt:

I confess to having mixed feelings about my sliver of literary immortality. It's impossible not to be grossed out on some level--particularly by the creepy image of the smoldering Crichton, alone in his darkened study, imagining in pornographic detail the rape of a small child. It's uplifting, however, to learn that Next's sales have proved disappointing by Crichton's standards, continuing what an industry newsletter dubs Crichton's "recent pattern of erosion." And I'm looking forward to the choice Crichton will have to make, when asked about the basis for Mick Crowley, between a comically dishonest denial and a confession of his shocking depravity.

Crichton launched his noxious attack from behind the shield of the small penis rule because, I'm sure, he's embarrassed by what he has done. In researching my article, I found a man who has long yearned for intellectual stature beyond the realm of killer dinosaurs and talking monkeys. And Crichton must know that turning a critic into a poorly endowed child rapist won't exactly aid his cause. Ultimately, then, I find myself strangely flattered. To explain why, let me propose a corollary to the small penis rule. Call it the small man rule: If someone offers substantive criticism of an author, and the author responds by hitting below the belt, as it were, then he's conceding that the critic has won.

My oh my! Touchy aren't we? TNR has been on a downward trajectory for several years now. I had attributed it to Beinart's ineptitude, but now the real source of journalistic crapulence has outed himself.

There is help available for delusional creeps like Crowley -- I hope he avails himself of it soon.

Pot - Kettle: More On French Rwandan Atrocities

Reuters reports:

KIGALI (Reuters) - French soldiers raped Rwandan women who had sought refuge in their bases during the African country's 1994 genocide and looked on as others did the same, witnesses told a commission on Wednesday.


Two ethnic Tutsi women -- identified as "Witness Three" and "Witness Two" for security reasons and speaking from a hidden area at the commission -- said they had been raped by French troops after fleeing machete-wielding Hutu militia gangs.

"The French used to come to our refugee tents and take girls including myself to give us beer and cigarettes," said Witness Three. "When we became drunk, they would forcefully start to have sexual intercourse with us, many French soldiers at the same time, one after the other.

"The French, including a colonel, forced me to have oral (and direct) sex with them, at times taking pictures of us."

Witness Two said she had sought shelter at a French base while looking for her missing children. She said a French soldier looked on as she was raped by a Rwandan man.

"A Rwandan man entered my tent and asked me why I was there ... As I explained, a French soldier entered, hit and pushed me down. Then the Rwandan man forcefully slept with me and the French soldier stood on watching.


On Tuesday a man only identified as "Witness Four" told the commission he saw French troops take Tutsi women from bushes where they were cowering in fear of Hutu militiamen. He said the women later told him they were raped by the soldiers.

Witness Four also said French soldiers beat him and accused him of helping Kagame's Tutsi rebels, and he showed the commission scars on his buttocks he said they inflicted.

He also said he survived being thrown into the forest from a French military helicopter flying at low altitude.

France, which sent in forces under a United Nations-authorised operation, said it had no comment on Wednesday....

Read the whole thing here.

You have to understand -- they're French not Americans; they're UN troops, not mad dogs unleashed by the imperialist Bushitler. So don't believe it, and anyway it doesn't matter..., doesn't matter..., doesn't matter.

Picture Of The Day -- The Entertainer

It's not really the season for street, well..., actually, Harbor performers, but this gal is out there tryin'. "She Who Must Not Be Named" tells me that the girl is using a "Curves" hoop, whatever that is.

Rick Santorum Was Right!

...about the moral dangers associated with embryonic stem cell research.

From the BBC:

Healthy new-born babies may have been killed in Ukraine to feed a flourishing international trade in stem cells, evidence obtained by the BBC suggests.

Disturbing video footage of post-mortem examinations on dismembered tiny bodies raises serious questions about what happened to them.

Ukraine has become the self-styled stem cell capital of the world.

There is a trade in stem cells from aborted foetuses, amid unproven claims they can help fight many diseases.

But now there are claims that stem cells are also being harvested from live babies.

Read the whole thing here.

Oh, well. I guess you can think of it as very, very late-term abortion.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Burning Women

AOL News reports that the ancient Indian practice of "sati" [or "suttee"], burning widows to death at their husbands' funerals, has been revived in modern India.

While sati cases remain rare today, and India normally only has one every year or so, recent months have seen a surge: At least three widows have died on their husband's pyres since August, and another was stopped from burning herself to death when villagers intervened.

Experts can find no explanation for the increase. It's possible that media reports and word-of-mouth lead to a copycat effect.

But across rural India, it's easy to find people who revere sati as the ultimate demonstration of womanly honor, devotion and piety. Thousands of sati temples have been erected over the centuries, many carefully preserved and still in daily use.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Women's issues are a big concern. Thousands of young brides are believed to be killed annually in dowry disputes, and statistics indicate that in a society that prefers to have boys, the aborting of female fetuses has left the country with 10 million "missing" girls. It's not all about education and modernization: Some of the country's wealthiest communities have the biggest imbalances.

And, despite official prohibitions, sati is honored by the rural poor. Witness this description of a recent burning of a woman named Bai:

No one in Baniyani will admit to having joined what quickly became a parade to the funeral pyre, or to having seen Bai burn. They're too afraid of the police. But many say they listened to the crowds, and heard stories afterward from neighbors who watched.

"The minute she said she wanted to be a sati, everyone came from here and nearby villages," said Ram, the elderly villager. "There must have been at least 200 people, maybe 300."

Chanting filled the village's narrow dirt roads: "Sati mata ki jai!" - "Glory to mother sati!"

Then Bai climbed onto the funeral pyre, took her husband's head in her lap, and went - painlessly, they insist - to her death. To some villagers, the act made her a saint, to others a goddess. Most everyone here worshipped what she had done.

"India has changed, and people should not do sati now," said Bali. "But if you do commit sati, you have courage ... You have gone from a normal person to superhuman."

Oh my!

Read it here.

Picture of the Day -- "Lookin' Out My Back Door"

Leading a Double Life

Having two homes can be complicated and frustrating at times, but it sure has its compensations. In the city I can walk a short distance from home and be in the midst of the Inner Harbor's numerous attractions. In the mountains I can walk a similar distance and watch horses playing in the field. A friend of ours wrote today to say that he would be traveling south next month and would like to get together. Would we rather he visit us in the city or in the mountains?


Decisions..., decisions!

UPDATE: My friend wrote today to clarify -- he would prefer the city. Makes sense; the mountains in January..., brrrrrrr!

What a Wonder-filled World!

This afternoon I was walking around the Federal Hill section of Baltimore and came across this, a conjunction of images that seems to encapsulate many of the tensions that make contemporary American culture so interesting and contentious.

The picture is of an observatory attached to the Maryland Science Center where each year tens of thousands of youngsters are enticed and indoctrinated into a heroic, wonder-filled and uncritical vision of Science with a capital "S".

But the image is a bit indistinct, reflected as it is in the window of a shop that epitomizes what Carl Sagan called the "Demon-Haunted World" of popular culture. A psychic who claims to be able to access supernatural powers wishes us all a general, non-denominational "Season's Greetings." Who knows what God she serves! If I had moved a few yards to the right I may have been able to include in the picture part of a nursing home and care facility operated by the Lutheran Church -- but if I had done that the Science Center would have dropped out of frame.

It may not seem interesting to you, but it stopped me right there in my tracks, and kept me thinking for at least another block and a half. To me it is wonderful that multiple systems of belief, each of which serves the needs of different segments of the population, can co-exist in relative harmony.

I was reminded of this later, when I watched Richard Dawkins on C-Span, lecturing in Lynchburg, Virginia on his latest book, "The God Delusion." Dawkins, well aware that Lynchburg was the home of Liberty University, apparently came with the intention of being as obnoxious as possible -- certainly he appeared that way to me. He read sections from his book pointing out the absurdity and viciousness of certain Biblical passages and used these to deride the entire concept of supernatural agency. He then moved to a questions section in which he attacked American society, argued that atheists were a persecuted minority, much like homosexuals (he seemed to have the strange idea that no admitted homosexual could ever be elected to office in America), and urged students from Liberty University to leave and enroll in "a real college".

To be fair, he is right that there is much that is absurd and downright vicious in the Bible, as in any religion, and he interspersed his insults with lucid accounts of scientific triumphs, but his treatment of religion was decidedly one-sided. Religions are human constructs -- imperfect attempts to comprehend the divine -- and as such reflect the whole range of human imperfections. But they are not just ridiculous; they are also sublime and can inspire wonderful and amazing responses in people.

And Dawkins' account of Science is equally one-sided. It, too, is a human construct and as such reflects the full range of human foibles. Whatever its theoretical strengths, and they are numerous and significant, in practice institutionalized "science" is often fallible and destructive. And, if religion has inspired horrific responses in some people, so too has "science." One need only remember the terrible atrocities inflicted on humanity by officially atheistic regimes in the Soviet Union, in Mao's China, and Pol Pot's Cambodia. Adherents to Marx's "scientific" objectivity may well have destroyed more human life than all the religious zealots in history.

It was brutal to watch Dawkins demolishing the arguments of various undergraduates. What was disgusting was to see the relish with which he undertook the demolition. Dawkins is a smug, mean, and vicious man whose intolerance would, if empowered, be inhumane. In Dawkins' ideal world, there is no room for the neighborhood psychic.

Later C-Span offered me another opportunity to ruminate on the image above. It presented a lecture by Michael Crichton who discussed his latest book "Next" and in the process launched a full-bore attack on institutionalized scientific authority. He lovingly detailed instances of fraud, mis-reporting, falsification of data, unsupported generalizations, and the like that have become all too common, especially in the areas of medical and environmental science. His basic point -- one with which I heartily agree -- was that science, in its current state, is an inadequate foundation upon which to solely base public policy.

It would have been fun to watch Dawkins debate Crichton. At least the heroic model of science would have taken a good thumping, and in Crichton's argument there would have been advanced a more humane view of the role of science in the modern world than that put forth by Dawkins.

I am a rationalist! I have no faith in psychics, and have no intention of ever consulting the woman in Federal Hill; but I find it comforting to know that her business is thriving, even in the shadow of the Science Center.

I wish her a very merry Christmas.

Death of a Heroic Monster

Former Chilean dictator General Augosto Pinochet has died at the age of 91.

He was one of the most controversial and complex characters in modern Latin American history. Vilified and demonized by the Left (for good reasons) he was considered to be a hero, even a saviour (also for good reasons) by his many followers on the Right. He overthrew one democratically elected government and bowed to another. He saved Chile from communism and put in place a free market economy that made it the most prosperous nation in Latin America, but he also condoned the torture and political murder of thousands of communists.

He is one of those leaders whose impact on the nation he governed was immense but impossible to categorize. The Telegraph has a long and insightful account of this remarkable man and his amazing career through history here.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Barefoot Bankers

Muhammed Yunus has been awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his work on "microcredits," and I can't think of a better candidate. The emerging microcredit industry represents nothing less than a revolution in approaches to economic development, one that holds more potential for bettering the lives of people throughout the underdeveloped world than anything yet proposed. Der Spiegel has a wonderfully illuminating article on these "barefoot bankers" and their approach to credit here. A few excerpts:
Microcredit, as it is called in industry jargon, is a ray of hope in the often dismal development scene....

Barefoot bankers have shown that the logic of capital markets works just as well with the poor as the rich. For those who still think of development work as a way of giving alms to the poor, this is provocative news. At the management level of most development organizations, the Sacred Heart approach is still the norm. Of course, most agree with the concept of helping people so that they can help themselves, but in practice few actually do it.

The poor people's banks... don't carry out credit checks or ask borrowers if they have any capital of their own. All that anyone who wants to take out a loan needs is a good idea and a permanent address. But there are no second chances for borrowers who waste the money....
The loans are expensive -- the microbanks charge five to six percent interest per month -- but operating costs are high [in many places microbanks have to maintain and defend offices in every neighborhood so people will have a safe place to keep their earnings] and the rates, which to us seem exorbitant are far better than would be available from other sources.

Here's the revolutionary part:
It's a simple concept really. Instead of basing aid on the principle of need, as traditional development theory does, microcredit loans demand a sense of responsibility. Whereas aid is often given to those who have nothing with no expectation of repayment, tiny loans encourage creativity. And it seems to be working. Many banks that make such tiny loans have started to make a profit -- and private investors can buy shares. A shareholder can earn interest while also supporting a good cause.
And there is the implicit possibility of a social revolution here too:
Interestingly, most of the borrowers are women. "They know how to handle money better, and they are more reliable than the men," [a specialist] says. The men favor the traditional African division of labor under which they have all the authority and the women must do the work."
A society in which the women control the money is one in which women will soon exercise power.

This entrepreneurial model based on responsibility rather than need has chalked up a number of successes over the years and is finally being recognized by the international development community. Yunus' Nobel is one indication of that. So, too, are Paul Wolfowitz' new policies at the World Bank which put a premium on responsibility and anti-corruption programs. Not surprisingly many of the staffers at the Bank and figures on the Left have resisted Wolfowitz's reforms, but progress is being made.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Excellent News Out Of Iraq

The major political obstacle to establishing an effective political union has been the question of an equitable distribution of oil revenues to the various sectarian, ethnic, and tribal groups that make up the Iraqi population. Now the NYT reports:

BAGHDAD, Dec. 8 — Iraqi officials are near agreement on a national oil law that would give the central government the power to distribute current and future oil revenues to the provinces or regions, based on their population, Iraqi and American officials say.

If enacted, the measure, drafted by a committee of politicians and ministers, could help resolve a highly divisive issue that has consistently blocked efforts to reconcile the country’s feuding ethnic and sectarian factions. Sunni Arabs, who lead the insurgency, have opposed the idea of regional autonomy for fear that they would be deprived of a fair share of the country’s oil wealth, which is concentrated in the Shiite south and Kurdish north.


Officials cautioned that this was only a draft agreement, and that it could still be undermined by the ethnic and sectarian squabbling that has jeopardized other political talks. The Iraqi Constitution, for example, was stalled for weeks over small wording conflicts, and its measures are often meaningless in the chaos and violence in Iraq today.

But a deal on the oil law could be reached within days, according to officials involved in the drafting. It would then go to the cabinet and Parliament for approval.

Read it here.

This is the kind of optimistic reporting that could not be found on the pages of the NYT prior to the election, but now that the Democrat victory is well in hand, they are beginning to return to a more objective view of the situation in Iraq.

On a more serious note, this could be the breakthrough everyone is looking for. Agreement on the distribution of oil revenues is the big hurdle that must be cleared before further negotiations can take place. An acceptable agreement will also remove a major reason for continuing resistance and will give all parties a stake in supporting the reconstruction and efficient operation of Iraq's oil industry.

Of course, this is still in the early stages. Final distribution equations cannot be developed until there is an accurate census of the population. That will not happen until next year. Still, it is an important step toward resolving the differences that are currently dividing the Iraqi population.


Mohammed at Iraq the Model notes that Iraqi oil revenues are at an all time high and that there are plans to use some of the money to upgrade the civil service and to distribute the remainder to the populace.
According to a recent paper published last November by Dow Jones (don't have a link, read a summary on paper) after the world economic forum in the dead sea, Iraq's income from oil exports for this year was at 35 billion dollars with a 14.3% increase from last year's total.

And that if oil export levels retain the current level and under stable prices, the coming year will witness a record income that was never reached in the history of modern Iraq and revenues will jump up to 40 billion dollars; a huge figure given the humble plans of the government and a figure that will put the government in a position where it must come up with new and ambitious plans to match the new revenue figures.

In fact and from what can be read in papers and heard from official statements it seems most government departments failed to spend the funds allocated by the government for those departments to execute their projects.
That's not because of security challenges only since there are several regions in the country that are relatively stable and where work can be done but more because of bureaucracy and corruption that make it extremely difficult to implement plans and make sure the money is spent in the right direction.

I think this was what pushed the government to announce a number of new measures to cope with the condition, perhaps the easiest measure to come up with was to announce plans for massive raises for civil servants; according to al-Sabah the raise will be as high as 60% of current payments in some cases, especially to those with lower incomes.

Another announcement followed soon, yesterday al-Sabah brought the news that the parliament is discussing a suggestion to set aside 30% of oil sales income to distribute among the citizens of Iraq. The draft law sets 3 classes of payments according to age and subsequent needs and responsibilities; from one month to 6 years, from 6 to 18 years and the third one 19 years and older.
People who migrated from Iraq, those with salaries higher that 1 million dinars/month and convicted criminals will be excluded from the payment program, the report added.

The people here met the news with some delight, hope and some skepticism too although the announcement came through the government's paper.

If this plan comes to materialize I think it can reflect positively on the security situation to some extent. The economy is part of the problem and also part of the solution and the government should move forward with reforms that involve economy and infrastructure as well as, of course and above all, security.
Read the whole thing here.

There seem to be a lot of things in the works right now. I can only think that the threat of an American pullout has galvanized Iraqi leaders, especially the Sunnis, into taking serious steps to resolve important issues like revenue distribution and combatting corruption.

And perhaps even more important, Mohammed notes:
The private sector in Iraq had witnessed giant leaps immediately after the fall of Saddam; that could be seen in the form of the thousands of private businesses that were established in the course of the past three years and that had a direct positive effect on the standards of living after long years of deprivation.
It's worth mentioning that between 1946 and the beginning of 2003 a total of 8374 businesses were registered while between April 2003 and the end of 2005 more than 20,000 have been registered. During last month alone 286 new businesses were added.
Such statistics seem quite extraordinary under the current security situation which sadly continues to overshadow and limits further improvement of this aspect of life in Iraq.
Now that is impressive and important information. You might have thought that the NYT or the broadcast networks might have reported it.


Soldiers from the Black Watch have nabbed a biggie.

BLACK Watch soldiers captured a terrorist godfather yesterday in the biggest operation by UK troops in Iraq.

The rebel leader and four of his henchmen were seized by an eight-strong Scots snatch squad as part of an operation involving almost 1000 soldiers, mostly British.

The series of raids in Basra also unearthed weapons and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) being prepared for use against allied troops.

Read it here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mozart Beheaded (Again)

Remember that German opera that canceled a performance of Mozart's Idomeneo for fear that the image of a beheaded Mohammed would offend Islamic sensibilities? Bloggers, politicians, and most importantly, artists around the world denounced the Berlin Opera for allowing itself to be intimidated by the threat of Islamic terrorism. At the time I argued that the criticism was misplaced and that the imagery as presented was needlessly provocative here].

Well, bowing to international pressure the Berlin Opera again changed its mind and scheduled a performance of Idomeneo for December 18th. Now, mysteriously and more than a little conveniently, the heads of Muhammed (and Jesus, and Poseidon, and Buddha) have disappeared from the prop room and cannot be replaced in time for the perfomance, so it has been canceled again. Funny thing that.

Read about it here.


Apparently substitute heads will be made and the production is on again. Read about it here. What confuses me about this is that the National Opera of Paris (Bastille) presented Idomeneo in November and caused no comment. Why a problem in Berlin and not in Paris?


The opera was finally performed in Berlin without any disturbance. Read about it here.

Zimbabwe Update: Bobby's At It Again!

Mad Bobby Mugabe's campaign to turn Zimbabwe into a racist, Maoist hell continues unabated.

The Telegraph reports:
A British-listed mining company, the first to invest in bankrupt Zimbabwe since the political crisis began, was ordered off its valuable diamond claim yesterday.

While President Robert Mugabe has seized thousands of white-owned farms since 2000 he has, up until now, left mining property alone.

The claim, an extraordinary chunk of ancient tribal land in south eastern Zimbabwe, may be one of the richest diamond fields found in recent years.

And the Zimbabwe government wants it.

Read it here [emphasis mine]

Nice move Bobby. You have a bankrupt country, desperately in need of foreign investment, and when a foreign company does take a chance and invests, you confiscate the profits. Good thinking!

Pot Meet Kettle

Reuters reports:

Rwandan President Paul Kagame said on Thursday that Dominique de Villepin, now prime minister, was among French officials who supported the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

"There are French officials who were involved at that time who are still alive including the prime minister of France now, who was a director of the cabinet of the foreign minister and who, these people who were involved directly in this situation," he told BBC World television in an interview.


"It's France that supported the genocidal forces, that trained them, that armed them, that participated in fighting against the forces that were trying to stop the genocide," he told BBC radio.

"France did not at any one time attempt to stop the genocide," he added. "On the contrary, they actually participated in the period leading to that genocide in supporting the government of Rwanda."

Of course you have to consider the source:

Rwanda broke off diplomatic ties with Paris last month in protest at a French judge's call for Kagame to stand trial over the killing of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash in 1994.

On Wednesday Kagame, on a visit to Britain, denied any involvement in Habyarimana's death -- widely regarded as the trigger for the genocide -- and accused France of actively supporting the killings.

Read it here.

Tell me again about the wisdom of Africa and the sophisticated integrity of French geo-politics and how NATO or the AU or the UN should intervene to stop the horrors of Darfur. These are the kinds of scum we are dealing with. Maybe John Kerry or Jim Baker can relate to people like these. I sure can't.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Watch The Skies!

From my LA correspondent, an amazing link.

Ever wonder what is going on beyond the atmosphere? It's fascinating and sometimes scary stuff. Check it all out here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Larger Meaning of the Baker Commission

None of the commentary on the Baker Commission report I have yet seen places it in an appropriate historical context, although from some of their comments, at least some of the members of the commission understand what they were about. In today's highly partisan environment everyone is looking to score points. Administration officials say that it ratifies their current policy. Democrats say it ratifies the failure of administration policy. Various political figures claim that it supports their views and statements and proves their opponents to be failures. There is speculation as to how this affects future military activities in the Middle East, or the careers of future presidential candidates. News organizations try to tease the most provocative statements possible our of all concerned. All of this is highly predictable, and all of it is pure bull-hockey.

What matters with regard to the Baker Commission and indeed the reason it was called into existence is the simple fact that since WWII the United States has not been able to generate domestic political support for sustained military actions sufficient to carry any major conflict to a satisfactory conclusion. If the current administration's policies failed, then so too did those of the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Bush 41 administration. All these presidents oversaw and were unable to bring to a satisfactory conclusion major military operations in far flung regions of the world.

There is, then, a long-standing structural problem that has to be addressed. Since WWII every major conflict has generated high levels of popular, political, and bureaucratic dissent. This dissent has sharply limited military options and has time and again forced premature withdrawal that has left many of the issues underlying the conflict unresolved. And the problem is systemic. Both parties have placed partisan interests ahead of the national interests and have sought short-term advantages from opposing and undermining war efforts.

No leader has been able to find a solution to the problem of sustaining popular and partisan support for a war effort. Eisenhower's immense prestige and reliance on diplomacy resulted in an unsatisfactory division of the Korean peninsula that still plagues us today. Nixon's great power diplomacy could not bring "peace with honor" in Vietnam, and his domestic political efforts -- instituting bi-partisan policies and programs, ending the draft, trying through unscrupuous means to inflate his re-election vote totals, and the like, not only discredited his own administration but could not forstall a Democratic majority in Congress that forced precipitous retreat from Vietnam. The first Gulf War ended on a popular note, but only because Bush the elder surrendered to his critics almost before they found their voice. The result was an unstable and brutal sanctions regime that made the second Iraq war almost inevitable. It once was thought that only a direct attack on American soil would generate the kind of support necessary to sustain such efforts. The results of this fall's elections have invalidated that assumption.

The central problem, then, is how to sustain popular and political support for large-scale, long-term military action of the kind necessary to fight through to a satisfactory outcome. The formation of the Baker Commission is this administration's attempt to find a solution to this problem. It is appropriate that the Commission has been overwhelmingly staffed by political and legal figures, because it is they, not the military or the policy professionals, who understand the problems of generating and sustaining popular, political, and legal support for a policy. And that is ultimately what the Baker Commission is all about -- setting ground rules that will be politically acceptable to enough of the political establishment to allow continued support for the current war effort.

And in a larger sense this commission's recommendations can serve as a guide to future policy-makers as the nation faces new and equally intractable challenges down the line. This does not mean that it will be a template that can be applied to all future situations, or that the commission's recommendations can be implemented [some of them clearly cannot] but rather it represents the kind of bipartisan effort to resolve differences that will be necessary if the United States is to take an active role in global affairs in the future.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Greatest Humanitarian -- Norman Borlaug

In the past I have called Norman Borlaug the greatest humanitarian ever [here]. Jim Chen agrees, noting that
Dr. Borlaug has saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived, and likely has saved more lives in the Islamic world than any other human being in history.
Read his tribute here and support his effort to have the greatest man of our, and perhaps all, times awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.

Here's a copy of HR 4924 honoring Dr. Borlaug. Write or call your congresscritter and express your support for it. Nobody deserves it more.


(DES MOINES, IA, USA) - The United States House of Representatives voted today to honor World Food Prize Founder and 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Dr. Borlaug is believed to have saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived—more than a billion—through his breakthrough work in agriculture. He is widely credited with ushering in the “Green Revolution,” the greatest period of food production in human history.


The first Congressional Gold Medal was awarded in 1776 to General George Washington. Dr. Borlaug now joins an illustrious list of recipients including Thomas Edison, Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King Jr, and President Ronald Reagan.

The United States Mint will create a one of a kind Gold Medal to symbolize Dr. Borlaug’s lifetime of achievement.

Read the whole thing here.


Pajamas Media has come up with an excellent term to designate people like me:
Freerangers are the significant number of Americans who do not identify themselves as liberals or conservatives....
and who are,
uncomfortable with the conventional left-right, liberal-conservative dichotomized pigeonholes of the mainstream media.
Check out their "Freerangers Central" forum here.


Jonah Goldberg in NRO argues against the idea of non-partisanship. He feels that it masks an unwillingness to debate principles, an unwarranted assumption of moral or intellectual superiority, and is fundamentally undemocratic because it assumes that the non-partisan's position is not arguable, simply right, and should be immediately implemented. He also notes that the argument is usually deployed by people of the Left. Read it here [behind subscription wall], or for a fuller discussion of the points argued in the article go here. The latter discussion notes that this non-partisan pragmatism emerged as an important feature of American politics in the 1960's and was ushered in by the "new politics" of JFK. I think that's about right, and the assertion of moral and intellectual superiority voiced by many non-partisans is an all-too-familiar trope of boomer rhetoric.

But what, then, can those of us who cannot stomach many aspects of both the Republican and Democrat Party positions and resist identification with either camp do? If "non-partisan" or "free-ranger" is too abstract a term, and "Republican" or "Democrat" problematic, Goldberg urges us to adopt more specific terminology.

OK, then! I hereby declare myself to be a Dubya Republican. I think that on nearly every major issue President Bush has been far more right in his judgments than his Democrat opponents or his critics within the Republican Party or the permanent government. That locates me fairly precisely. The only trouble is that the term will become obsolete in two years, and then I shall have to choose among a number of fairly unpalatable alternatives.

It's too early to tell, but right now I'm tending toward Mitt in 08.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Merry Tuba Christmas

This afternoon as I returned home I noticed a crowd beginning to assemble at the Harbor amphitheater. There were no performers in sight, although some chairs had been set up. I was tired and my feet hurt so I just continued on home. When I got there I looked out the window and saw a large herd of people moving purposefully toward the harbor carrying tubas. So, my curiosity piqued, I grabbed my camera, followed them, and was treated to "A Merry Tuba Christmas" concert. Afterwards, on the way home, I ran into one of the tubas and it kindly consented to pose for me with its handler.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Quiet Place

As I have noted in several previous posts "She Who Must Not Be Named" and some of her girlfriends are into Yoga and meditation and other such silliness. They claim it has wonderful benefits for both the mind and body. For me a swimming pool serves just as well.

Come evenings, after the health club crowd has cleared out, I often go here to swim. Usually there are no more than a couple of other people around and I can paddle back and forth undisturbed. The exercise is good for my arthritic joints and there is a peaceful, calming quality to the back and forth repetitive motion that frees my mind from distractions. It's the best cure for writer's block I know, and I have frequently found ways to resolve sticky writing points while swimming. The only trouble is, it's hard to take notes underwater so I have to memorize short outlines. That's why I sometimes go home mumbling to myself.

There Must Be Some Benefit in All of This

Der Spiegel features an article on the international importance of bloggery.
Authoritarian states like China, Iran and Egypt are having trouble dealing with the burgeoning number of critical online diaries. These blogs, which multiply by the second, expose news about incidents that many regimes would prefer to keep hushed up. In many countries, blogs are giving people their first real taste of democracy.
Read it here.

Much the same could be said about authoritarian structures within Western societies, whether they be in the government, big corporations, the media, the ed biz, or anywhere. Doors are being blasted open and people are beginning to glimpse the inner workings of the sausage factories.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Playing With My New Toy -- Camera Bloggery

"She Who Must Not Be Named," for reasons too complicated to explain, gave me my birthday gift a bit early this year. It's a new camera! Joy, joy!

"She" had noted that I've been taking pictures everywhere I go and decided that I could do with some decent equipment instead of the silly little "point and click" pocket camera I currently use. (I know, I know..., what counts is the photographer, not the equipment.)

I had been thinking along much the same lines and had even consulted with some commercial photographers, one of whom used to work for National Geographic. All of them said much the same thing. The Nikon D-50 is an excellent starter camera. Don't go overboard on equipment. Stay away from the professional gear until you really know what you are doing. You know, the standard stuff.

So, I am now the proud possessor of a new Nikon and am beginning to explore its potential. Here's one of my first attempts using the 18-55 Nikkor lens bundled with the camera. It's certainly not what I see in my mind's eye, but it is a big improvement over the point and shoot I've been using.

On What Do Economists Agree?

Hat Tip, Greg Mankiw [original article behind subscription screen]. Read his summary here.

A survey of members of the American Economic Association shows some interesting areas of agreement:
  • 90.1 percent disagree with the position that "the U.S. should restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries."
  • 87.5 percent agree that "the U.S. should eliminate remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade."
  • 85.2 percent agree that "the U.S. should eliminate agricultural subsidies."
  • 85.3 percent agree that "the gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged."
  • 77.2 percent agree that "the best way to deal with Social Security's long-term funding gap is to increase the normal retirement age."
  • 67.1 percent agree that "parents should be given educational vouchers which can be used at government-run or privately-run schools."
  • 65.0 percent agree that "the U.S. should increase energy taxes."
Note that this professional consensus constitutes a ringing endorsement of major themes advanced by the Bush administration: promoting free trade and economic globalization; fixing social security; and choice in education, all of which the Democrat Party currently opposes.

The only Democrat proposal among those with majority support among professional economists is an increase in energy taxes and that is opposed by one-third of the economists surveyed.
The Democrats' signature policy proposal, raising the minimum wage, was approved by only 37.7 percent of the economists, while nearly half [46.8 percent] wanted to eliminate the minimum wage altogether.

Yet the dominant political mood in this country, certified in the recent elections, runs directly counter to the recommendations of the experts. Expect a Democrat majority in Congress to push for economic policies that the experts agree will be economically debilitating at best, and potentially catastrophic.

If the Bush administration, which to date has had a superb economic record, cannot stand tough against the Democrats, there will be bad days ahead for us all.

Run Newt Run!

It looks as if Newt Gingrich is running for President. I certainly hope so! Not because I want him to win, that would be disastrous for the country, but because he thinks long and seriously about important issues and has the audacity to actually give voice to important questions that have to be confronted in these dangerous times. We are seriously in need of a broad national dialogue that challenges many of the fundamental assumptions that have characterized our political culture for the past half century. Newt can be counted on to raise those kinds of issues and, if he is a serious contender for the Republican nomination, it will be impossible to ignore them. This next Presidential go-round could be the most interesting campaign in decades, and Newt's the kind of guy who could make it such.

Consider, for instance, his most recent argument on first amendment rights. He notes that we live in times when enemies are openly plotting to commit acts of mass destruction; when the instuments of mass destruction are increasingly available; and when the free global exchange of information, capital, people, and materials makes us more vulnerable than at any time in the past. In such times, he suggests, we might need to rethink our current understanding of first amendment rights.
This is a serious, long-term war," the former speaker said, according an audio excerpt of his remarks made available yesterday by his office. "Either before we lose a city or, if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people.
Or this proposal to push for major changes in the international law of warfare:
We should propose a Geneva Convention for fighting terrorism, which makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction, and those who would target civilians are, in fact, subject to a totally different set of rules that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism before it gains so much strength that it is truly horrendous.
Read it here.

These are the kinds of hot-button issues that most candidates would run from, but Newt joyfully engages them and in doing so forces us to pay attention to them. I don't necessarily agree with him, and I certainly don't plan to vote for him, but I sure hope he runs and runs strong.